Written by Jonathan Manuel.
The Suur Tõll is an Icebreaker (One of Three) originally built for the Imperial Russian navy in 1912 as Tsar Mikhail Feodorovich that is currently preserved in the Estonian Maritime Museum in Tallinn. She was Built by the German shipyard Stettiner Maschinenbau AG Vulcan for the Imperial Russian Navy as an icebreaker meant specifically to break through the Baltic Ice and to weather the conditions of the Baltic.
Tsar Mikhail Feodorovich served this capacity until 1917 When she was captured by the Bolsheviks and was renamed Volynets to honor the Volhynian Guard Regiment on 15 May 1917. The reason she was named was due to the fact that on 12 March 1917, the Volhynian Guard Regiment from Petrograd mutinied against their Tsarist officers and joined the revolutionary Bolsheviks. In light of the exploits of this Regiment she was Renamed.
The Bolsheviks however were only able to Operate her for a year before she was captured in a raid along with several other Icebreakers by the Finnish intervention forces during the Russian Civil War. The Finnish then renamed her Wäinämöinen after a legendary Finnish Hero much to the discotent of the Finnish crew who captured her as they had voted to name her Leijona after the Lion of Finland. Shortly after Her capture Wäinämöinen was used to transport 3,000 German soldiers (Detachment Brandenstein) to Loviisa together with Tarmo, another Finnish icebreaker. The Germans supplied her with coal and Other provisions. She spent most of the remaining spring assisting German ships between Helsinki and Tallinn. On 3 June 1918 Wäinämöinen was officially handed over to the Finnish Board of Navigation and became the largest and most powerful icebreaker in the Finnish state-owned fleet. Her Capitan was Replaced by Polish-Estonian Stanislaus Juhnewicz (the ship's original captain who had joined forces with the Finns during the capture after having been promised a government post). While Wäinämöinen was the largest Icebreaker the Finnish owned at the Time her use was not extensive due to her deep draft and the particularly Low Sea level, Although during the particularly harsh winter of 1922 she assisted 170 ships to and from Finnish ports. In what would become her last mission under the Finnish flag she opened the South Harbor in Helsinki on 16 April 1922.
In 1922 She was handed over to Estonia in clear violation of the Treaty of Tartu in which Finland agreed to return all captured Russian Icebreakers to the Soviet Union. After her Transfer she was once again Renamed this time to the Name she is Known today Suur Tõll after Toell the Great, a great giant from the Estonian mythology. In the 1920s, Estonia did not possess a dry dock large enough to accommodate the Suur Tõll and as a result the icebreaker had to be drydocked in Copenhagen, Denmark. However, in 1923 as a response, the Tallinn-based Riigi Laivatehas combined their 2,000-ton and 3,000-ton floating docks with pontoons to accommodate her. In 1927, the shipyard Undertook a major Refit of Suur Tõll. Her old boilers were replaced with new ones purchased from Vulcan and Her bridge was heightened by one deck to improve visibility over the bow. During the era of Estonian independence in the 1920s and 1930s, she assisted ships mainly outside Tallinn in the southern Gulf of Finland, but sometimes sailed as far south as the coast of Lithuania at times. Her last winter in 1940 was extreamly difficult for Suur Tõll. So difficult that she had to escort ships all the way from Stockholm and Danzig to Tallinn.
In June 1940 The Soviet Union Occupied and Annexed Estonia and Seized all of Estonia’s Naval assets. Suur Tõll was Immediately transferred to the Soviet fleet and Scheduled to run convoy’s. On 27–29 August 1941, she participated in the evacuation of Tallinn, joining the convoy led by Soviet Heavy cruiser Kirov while carrying 980 passengers and hundreds of tons of military supplies. Although the convoy suffered heavy losses (over half of the 67 civilian ships were destroyed and around 6,000 lives were lost), Tõll steaming in front of Kirov, managed to evade the bombs dropped at it and arrived in Kronstadt undamaged. However, on 11 September the icebreaker was hit by three incendiary bombs which caused Relatively minor damage to the vessel. Following a decision to scuttle all vessels in the port of Leningrad to prevent capture, depth charges and other explosives were placed in the engine rooms and boiler rooms. However, these were later removed when the icebreaker was pressed into naval service and Renamed Volynets once more. At the same time, her armament was increased with two 76 mm anti-aircraft guns and later she received two more 76mm Anti-Aircraft guns and four 45mm guns. During the Siege of Leningrad and the resulting shortage of Resources, Volynets mostly remained in the port as a stationary anti-aircraft battery. She had also struck naval mines twice, first on 24 November 1942 when three small mines caused minor damage to her bow and then again in January 1945 which stopped her from Fully joining the war. Post War she was used for towing war repatriation and Captured ships to the shipyard of Leningrad. from 1951 until 1952 Volynets was extensively refitted at Rauma-Repola shipyard in Rauma as part of the Finnish war reparations to the Soviet Union. The refit included the replacement of her obsolete coal-fired boilers with new Swedish-built oil-fired boilers and an almost complete rebuild of her superstructure. In 1957, Volynets was transferred to Kronstadt where she remained for the remainder of her active career in the Soviet auxiliary fleet. Equipped with large pumps and extensive fire-fighting outfit the old icebreaker was stationed at the shipyard where the Red Fleet Scrapped most of its old warships. In 1966, the two ships once named after the hero of the Finnish national epic Kalevala met for the last time when Vyborg, the former Finnish coastal defense ship Väinämöinen that had been handed over to the Soviet Union as part of the Finnish war reparations was broken up at the scrapyard.
While the scrapping of the obsolete steam-powered icebreaker was planned for 1967, Volynets remained in service until 1985. In the following year, she was used to supply steam during the construction of the naval port in Primorsk, but was afterwards returned to Lomonosov Where she was finally slated for Scrapping in late 1987. When News of Suur Tõll imminent scrapping reached Estonia, a massive effort spearheaded by the Estonian maritime museum acquired her for Display and Restoration. The road to her eventual Display was a long and arduous one with many challenges such as locating the Helm and the Bell of the ship, and has had some of her rooms restored to their original 1912 appearance, but Ultimately paid off as she is currently the Largest Prewar Icebreaker preserved in the world. (Krasin is larger but received many modifications in the 1950s that dramatically changed her appearance).
Suur Tõll's website